Wildlife

First evidence of sleep in flight
August 4, 2016 07:12 AM - Max Planck Society

For the first time, researchers have discovered that birds can sleep in flight. Together with an international team of colleagues, Niels Rattenborg from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen measured the brain activity of frigatebirds and found that they sleep in flight with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land. How frigatebirds are able to perform adaptively on such little sleep remains a mystery.

Giant forest fires exterminate spotted owls
August 3, 2016 07:17 AM - University of Wisconsin-Madison

As climate changes and wildfires get larger, hotter and more frequent, how should public lands in the American West be managed to protect endangered creatures that, like the spotted owl, rely on fire-prone old-growth forests?

Could periodic forest thinning and prescribed burns intended to prevent dangerous “megafires” help conserve owls in the long run? Or are those benefits outweighed by their short-term harm to owls? The answer depends in part on just how big and bad the fires are, according to a new study.

In a report published Aug. 1 that may help quiet a long-simmering dispute about the wisdom of using forest thinning and prescribed burns to reduce the “fuel load” and intensity of subsequent fires, a University of Wisconsin—Madison research group has documented an exodus of owls following the fierce, 99,000 acre King Fire in California in 2014.

Antarctic sea ice may be a source of mercury in Southern Ocean fish and birds
August 1, 2016 09:27 PM - University of Melbourne

New research has found methylmercury – a potent neurotoxin – in sea ice in the Southern Ocean.

Published today in the journal Nature Microbiology, the results are the first to show that sea-ice bacteria can change mercury into methylmercury, a more toxic form that can contaminate the marine environment, including fish and birds.

If ingested, methylmercury can travel to the brain, causing developmental and physical problems in foetuses, infants and children.

Changing Arctic Tundra Could Radically Alter Shorebird Breeding Grounds
July 29, 2016 03:21 PM - Yale Environment 360

A new study projects that global warming could dramatically affect the tundra breeding habitat of 24 shorebird species, with 66 percent to 83 percent losing most of their suitable nesting territories. Researchers modeled breeding conditions for these migratory shorebird species — some of which travel more than 10,000 miles from Antarctica or southern South America to breed in the Arctic — and compared projected 21st century conditions to the last major warming event more than 6,000 years ago. 

Butterflies use differences in leaf shape to distinguish between plants
July 28, 2016 04:46 PM - Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution via EurekAlert!

The preference of Heliconius butterflies for certain leaf shapes is innate, but can be reversed through learning. These results support a decades-old theory for explaining the evolution of the exceptional diversity of leaf shapes in passionflowers.

The tropical butterfly Heliconius eratodistinguishes between shapes, and uses them as a cue for choosing the plants on which to feed and lay eggs, shows new research by scientists from the University of Cambridge and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. The butterfly has an innate preference for passionflowers with particular leaf shapes, but can learn to overcome this preference in favor of other shapes, especially those that are the most abundant in the local flora. These preferences can promote the evolution of plant biodiversity.

First whale detected by newly deployed acoustic buoy in New York Bight
July 28, 2016 04:15 PM - Wildlife Conservation Society via EurekAlert!

A new acoustic buoy recently deployed by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and WCS's (Wildlife Conservation Society) New York Aquarium to listen for some of the world's biggest animals in the New York Bight has detected its first whale species, and it's a really big one.

Fixed in position some 22 miles south of Fire Island and fitted with a digital acoustic monitoring instrument, the hi-tech buoy is now operational and has detected the vocalizations of fin whales, enormous marine mammals second in size only to the blue whale, the largest animal species on earth. The first whale detection was made on Monday, July 4th, only 12 days after the buoy was placed in its current position on June 23rd.

Since that time, the buoy has made several fin whale detections; the most recent vocalizations were detected yesterday (July 27th) and today.

Cod and climate
July 27, 2016 02:53 PM - University of California - Santa Barbara via EurekAlert!

In recent decades, the plight of Atlantic cod off the coast of New England has been front-page news. Since the 1980s in particular, the once-seemingly inexhaustible stocks of Gadus morhua-- one of the most important fisheries in North America -- have declined dramatically.

In 2008, a formal assessment forecasted that stocks would rebound, but by 2012, they were once again on the verge of collapse. Two years later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instituted an unprecedented six-month closure of the entire Gulf of Maine cod fishery to allow stocks to recover.

While overfishing is one known culprit, a new study co-authored by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and Columbia University finds that the climatological phenomenon known as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is also a factor. And it contributes in a predictable way that may enable fishery managers to protect cod stocks from future collapse. The group's findings appear in the journal PLOS ONE.

Low Zika risk for travelers to Olympics in Brazil, study finds
July 26, 2016 07:23 AM - Michael Greenwood, Yale News

The Zika virus poses a negligible health threat to the international community during the summer Olympic Games that begin next month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, according to researchers at Yale School of Public Health (YSPH).

In a worst-case scenario, an estimated 3 to 37 of the thousands of athletes, spectators, media, and vendors traveling to Rio for the Olympics will bring the Zika virus back to their home countries, the researchers concluded.

Bird ranges vary more than thought
July 24, 2016 01:32 PM - University of Massachusetts at Amherst via Science Daily

A new study of population trends among 46 ecologically diverse bird species in North America overturns a long-held assumption that the climate conditions occupied by a species do not change over time. Instead, birds that have increased in abundance over the last 30 years now occupy a wider range of climate conditions than they did 30 years ago, and declining species occupying a smaller range.

A new study of population trends among 46 ecologically diverse bird species in North America conducted by avian ecologist Joel Ralston and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst overturns a long-held assumption that the climate conditions occupied by a species do not change over time.

Putting the sloth in sloths
July 21, 2016 07:19 AM - Terry Devitt, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Although most of the terrestrial world is covered in trees, there are precious few vertebrates that make the canopy their home and subsist solely on a diet of leaves.

Tree sloths are among the most emblematic tree-dwelling mammals. However, they are best known for their pokey demeanor rather than the fact that they spend the majority of their lives in trees munching leaves. But the slow motion lifestyle of tree sloths, according to a new study, is the direct result of the animal’s adaption to its arboreal niche.

“Among vertebrates, this is the rarest of lifestyles,” says Jonathan Pauli, a University of Wisconsin—Madison professor of forest and wildlife ecology and the senior author of a report to appear in the August 2016 edition of the American Naturalist. “When you picture animals that live off plant leaves, they are almost all big — things like moose, elk and deer. What’s super interesting about arboreal folivores is that they can’t be big.”

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